Twenty years of working on community and economic development has led Stacia Thompson to what she calls the perfect role: the first executive director of the Sherman Phoenix Foundation.
In her position, she manages the daily operations of the foundation while building community relationships that support economic equity and empowerment, strategic investment and training, entrepreneurial success and emotional wellness for leaders of color.
The Sherman Phoenix, a commercial center for small businesses, opened in 2018 in an old BMO Harris Bank branch that got damaged during unrest sparked by the shooting death of Sylville Smith by police in 2016.
Since its start, it has been a model for healing Milwaukee by generating positive economic and social returns for communities of color.
“This is a perfect experience for me because it puts every professional experience I’ve had in the last 20 years in one role,” said Thompson, whose previous experiences includes working at the University of Wisconsin Parkside, Gateway Technical College, City Colleges of Chicago and the YWCA of Metro Chicago.
Thompson, who began her current job in January, is known for being a change agent in developing economic empowerment and workforce strategies.
“Stacia wants to see equity and justice in the world,” said Dorri McWhorter, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Chicago. “You want something done, you give it to her.”
Thompson said she plans to meet the business owners in the Sherman Phoenix to learn more about them and discuss a collective vision.
Thompson, who holds a doctorate in education, believes in staying connected.
“It’s just listening to the community to keep up with change” while continuing to eliminate barriers, she said. “That way we improve life for the community.”
Others say her skill set will enable the Sherman Phoenix to go to the next level.
“Not only is Dr. Thompson a qualified leader, but she’s also an entrepreneur, and we knew that entrepreneurial mindset would ensure our mission came to life,” said Ron Adams, board chairperson of the Sherman Phoenix Foundation and vice president of Field Diversity and Inclusion at Northwestern Mutual.
Thompson also does advocacy work for children with special needs. Initially, she did so on behalf of her son who has special needs. Then she ended up becoming a voice for others.
“As a parent, other parents don’t feel as empowered,” she said. “So sometimes I’ll contact a school on behalf of my son but sometimes I’m doing it for parents who don’t know what to say or do.”
Thompson also finds time for the lighter side of life. She cooks food that she sometimes sells, plays softball and she treasures being with friends and family.
“I can’t think of a single big moment, good or bad, that Stacia hasn’t been a part of,” said Julie Ortiz, Thompson’s best friend for close to 25 years.
Ortiz said it’s the little things Thompson does that have made their friendship great.
“I’ll call my kids sometimes to see what they’re up to, and little do I know they’re having dinner with ‘Aunt Stacia,’ ” she said. “She’s such a comforting presence that you worry less when you know she’s there.”